September 20, 2014

Postal workers complain about lack of information in anthrax scare

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Investigation determined white powder was flour

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Several local U.S. Postal Service employees are unhappy they were not fully informed about the potential threat posed by envelopes containing a suspicious white powder that recently passed through two postal facilities, according to a union representative.

Donna Buchanan, the secretary of the American Postal Workers Local 570 union, said employees at the Williston Post Office and at the processing and distribution center in Essex Junction believe they should have been updated more closely about the four suspicious envelopes mailed to the Resolution Inc. offices in Williston and South Burlington.

The envelopes contained a white powder that the sender claimed was anthrax. Tests later revealed the powder to be flour.

The envelopes passed through both the Essex Junction distribution center and the Williston Post Office, though one envelope was discovered at the Williston facility and was not delivered to Resolution. The envelopes were discovered between June 14 and June 21. They were addressed to the A&E television network, one of Resolution’s clients.

Patricia Quarato, a U.S. Postal Inspector who worked on the case, said officials knew early on that they were likely dealing with a hoax.

Quarato said the envelopes initially passed through a sophisticated biological detection system in Boston before being forwarded to Vermont. The test would have indicated the presence of anthrax.

Also, the contents of two envelopes discovered at Resolution’s South Burlington office on June 14 — the first envelopes discovered — were tested both in the field and at a lab and were determined to be flour and not anthrax.

Quarato promptly informed management at both the Williston and South Burlington post offices that other envelopes containing white powder could be coming through their facilities.

Some Williston employees, however, were upset that they were not then notified about the danger.

Local and district U.S. Postal Service officials could not be reached for comment on the policy for informing employees of an anthrax threat.

The Williston employees who were likely to encounter envelopes mailed to Resolution in the future were apprised of the situation soon after the June 14 incident and instructed to be on the alert, Quarato said.

Those employees were also given protective gloves to wear. On June 20, the employees intercepted an envelope bound for Resolution with white powder inside.

Buchanan said postal employees at the Essex Junction plant believe they should have been told about the situation and informed that the threat appeared to be a hoax.

Quarato said she decided not to tell Essex Junction employees immediately based on what she knew about the threat.

“I would never have put anyone’s safety in jeopardy,” Quarato said. “They would have been the first to know if it was a viable threat.”

Employees were evacuated at the Resolution office at E-Commerce Park in Williston on June 21 when an employee opened an envelope containing white powder and a letter claiming the powder was anthrax.

Buchanan said Essex postal employees did not learn specifics about the incident until they returned home and watched a television news broadcast report.

“I’d like to have the confidence to know that if anthrax does go through this building I’m going to find out about it before I get home,” said Buchanan, who works at the Essex Junction facility.

Tom Anderson of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Burlington said authorities have identified the man who sent the letters to Resolution. Officials are considering charges, according to Anderson, pending further investigation into the man’s background.

Anderson said the suspect sent a fifth envelope with flour inside to Maxim magazine in New York. Anderson was not sure of the man’s motivations.

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